Thursday, 15 July 2021

A Temple Not Made With Hands

 "Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?" (2 Sam 7:5b)

So a quick recap. David kills Goliath. Saul dies. Jonathan dies. David becomes king. David defeats everyone. David takes the Ark into Jerusalem. David reveals altogether too much while dancing. Now read on.

What's a bloke gonna do when he's defeated everyone and got a capital city and brought the holiest of all things into the city and put it in a tent? Upgrade the tent, obviously. 

And you may wonder why God gets a bit humpty about it. Maybe David's getting a bit above his place. Maybe he thinks by building a nice house for the ark, he's got God pinned down. Always best with God, you might think - to be located somewhere safe. Under control. No self-respecting deity that made the heavens and earth is gonna stand for that. Same for us. We like God to fall in with our specifications of an orderly life and a well-run church. But every time we decide what God wants to be doing, God decides something else. God doesn't sympathise with our liturgical preferences, our decisions as to who is and isn't entitled to be in God's in-crowd. God's a bit random like that.

Or maybe David really does just want to honour God, and God doesn't want David doing it because his hands are so blood-stained.  David just isn't clean enough to build this Temple for the holy one of Israel.

And God's offer is to turn this round completely. Instead of David building God a house, God will build a house for David. And that's another reminder of David's limited nature - he can control cedar and stone. But he can't control the future. Nobody ever can. Let's take some examples... 

The dictators of the past dreamt of a boot stamping on a human face forever, they say. But they all passed the same way as all the other dictators in the end. The future is not and never will be in their hands. 

It makes you wonder why any vicar ever bothers to make changes in a church, for instance. Soon as they leave, the next one does the opposite. Bring in one of the many modern Lord's Prayers and the next vicar will replace it with the old one.  That or the congregation will bring it back during the vacancy, and swear it was always that way. Bring in the old Lord's Prayer and the next vicar will replace it with the new one.  Same way, no Gordon Brown can bring in exciting initiatives like HIPs (remember them?) without David Cameron scrapping them. No Cameron can make the Tories a bunch of cuddly liberal metrosexuals without an Alexander B dP Johnson turning them into a bunch of people booing young black men. Even this current Government will one day see its power gone and somebody reversing what they did.

Or us at home - domestically we can make our houses into homes only to know that when we sell them the buyers will rip the insides out and turn them into their own homes. We know the day will always come when we lose control of the future. 

In business a Chief Exec can decide to make the company closer to its customers - more responsive - by decentralising. And the next one will promptly centralise everything to make it more efficient and standardised. 

There's always a point where our control is gone. 

But God has control of the future. And God will build David a house. But not a house made of stones and cedar. One made in human life. David's son will build the Temple, and will be the first in a line of kings that will last quite a while. But. As we know. Only 400 years. At that time, the house that Solomon builds will be destroyed and the house in the flesh that God has established will be dissipated and scattered. But not lost.

Because God's promises are longer term than that. And bigger than flesh and bone, cedar and stone.

The throne God's putting in place will last forever. David can't guarantee that - he can't control the future. Henry VIII drove the country to distraction trying to ensure his family would inherit from him - and with all the viciousness of Thomas Cromwell and all the liturgical genius of Thomas Cranmer, and all the murderous instincts to kill and elbow out non-delivering wives... he managed one generation. One generation. David's family managed about 18 generations before they passed into the vagueness of Exilic history.

But God's promise will last forever. And it's a promise that will be achieved in a circuitous way. Through Bathsheba and an adulterous relationship and an arranged death. Through Solomon, the boy who was not really born to be king. Through a descendant of David marrying a descendant of Jezebel - at least, according to St Matthew.

And through the Exile and the return, through the chaos of the Maccabees and the descent into defeat by the Romans... God will establish his throne that lasts forever. In a temple not made with hands - the body of that son of David, Jesus.

It's all grace. David couldn't earn this. David couldn't plan for this. In a million years he couldn't envisage it. Somehow God's promise will come down through the troubles of God's people to the point where a son of David will come to this world, and take his place on a throne that will last forever.

It's all grace. Solomon's temple made with hands will not last. But the house that God builds will last forever. And the temple that God will make is the one that will be destroyed - and rebuilt in three days - the temple that is Jesus's body.

It's all grace. David can't earn it by  goodness. Can't plan it. Can't build it. Can't control it. But through him, God blesses all people. Through him, we are blessed. And the temple not made with hands is our heavenly temple, and God is with us, and the temple is our God and our Lord, and our Saviour and our friend - the son of David whose throne lasts forever.


  1. Beautiful and profound. And blessings upon you for these words which come to me in the midst of drafting my next work called "Holy Dwelling" which will focus upon the Soul's journey from being made in the Image of God to becoming the Likeness of God. The ancient writings of Evagrius, Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Maximus the Confessor have led me to discover the correlation between the Soul and the very physical architecture of the Church, as well as the liturgy, and Christ's own life. Thank you so much!


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